Pagentry is alive in modern Italy, and a traveler who plans ahead is likely to find walled cities and hilltop villages filled with townsfolk dressed in the cloaks and gowns of centuries past.

Among Italy's most famous celebrations:

*Epiphany Fair, Rome: A wonderful children's market of Christmas toys and pastries in the festively decorated Piazza Navona ends with a carnival on the eve of Twelfth Night. (Jan. 5.)

*Scoppio del Carro ("Explosion of the Cart"), Florence: Fireworks and flowers piled high in an ox-drawn cart at the Duomo are ignited by a dove-shaped rocket launched at the stroke of noon from the great cathedral by the Cardinal of Florence. (Easter Sunday.)

*Sagra di Sant" Efisio ("Festival of St. Ephisius"), Cagliari: One of Sardina's (and Italy's) largest folk celebrations, held since 1957 to commemorate the end of the plague. Thousands of costumed pilgrims accompany the saint's statute by foot, horseback and ox-drawn cart. (May.)

*II Palio, Siena: A most unusual bareback horse race in Siena's principal square. Street banquets, medieval garb and displays of flag-throwing virtuosity. (July 2, Aug. 16.)

*Regata Storica ("Historic Regatta"), Venice: Gondola-racing on the Grand Canal, preceded by an elaborate costumed parade of the city's colorful ceremonial boats from the age of the Venetian Republic. Much pomp and music. (First Sunday in September.)

*Giotra del Saracino ("Joust of the Saracen"), Arezzo: Following a colorful Tuscan parade, knights in armor compete in a 13th-century tilting contest, charging a Saracen figure mounted on a pivot. (First Sunday in September.)

*Pedigrotta, Naples: A festival of spectacles -- fireworks, a parade of carnival floats, illuminated boats and the Neopolitan Song Competition. (September.)

*Partita a Sacchi on Personaggi Viventi ("Living Chess Game"), Marcostica: Human pawns in ancient costume bring life to a chess game in the square in this fortress hill town northwest of Venice. It dates from 1454, when two suitors of the daughter of the Lord of Marostica settled their marriage quest in a chess match. (September.)